Enduringly popular singer-songwriter Paul Anka is back at age 71 with Duets, a quasi-new album with a self-explanatory title. Anka’s discography is loaded with hits, spanning from 1957 with the number one “Diana” to his final Top 40 hit, “Hold Me ‘til the Mornin’ Comes,” in 1983 (a 1998 version with Peter Cetera is included here). He may never have been particularly hip, but he’s obviously well-loved by millions around the globe.
The way Duets breaks down, there are but three brand new tunes among the 14-track lineup. However, lest that make the collection sound like a mere compilation ornamented with a touch of collector’s bait, only four songs here have been previously released in this exact form. That means seven of these duets feature newly recorded vocals and/or instrumental tracks. No, it’s not a full-fledged new release but it’s not exactly a standard-issue retread either.
Lovers of Anka’s pleasantly smooth vocal stylings will, of course, be likeliest to enjoy the entire thing. Less committed fans may find themselves gravitating more toward specific collaborations. Of the new tunes, one of them doesn’t really even fit the album concept. “Find My Way Back to Your Heart,” a galloping Anka/Michael Thompson co-write, isn’t exactly a duet, but it does feature Tita Hutchison on backing vocals. Also new is Anka’s “I Really Miss You,” featuring a pleasingly gruff Leon Russell co-vocal that brings some welcome grit to the proceedings. There’s also a fresh take on an old standard, “Pennies from Heaven,” with Michael Bublé.
Highlighting the new arrangements is “This Is It,” a song famously co-written by Anka and Michael Jackson. The solo Jackson version surfaced as the title track to Jackson’s posthumous concert documentary and soundtrack album. There were two versions, the second featuring backing vocals by the surviving Jackson brothers. I don’t hesitate in saying this Anka duet thoroughly buries the Jackson-only arrangement. In fact, this might’ve turned into the big hit that the late artist’s management was hoping for had it been released in its place. It’s far more buoyant and energetic, capturing the feel of Jackson’s hits far more effectively.
The rest is a generally inoffensive grab-bag of middle of the road pop. Also cheating the duet concept a bit is “Les Filles de Paris,” on which Anka’s “duet” partner is trumpeter Chris Botti. Among the other newly arranged tunes is a splendid jazzy take on “Crazy,” with Willie Nelson. Co-written with Michael McDonald, “Walk a Fine Line” not only features the former Doobie Brother but also George Benson. Rounding out this easy listening collection are four duets straight off of Anka’s 1998 A Body of Work.